Why Would You Become a Teacher?

 I have spent a great deal of the past year speaking to future teachers and education students in higher education. Honestly, these are my favorite groups to speak with. They are so full of hope and potential and have yet to become weighted down with the realities of the teaching profession. However, as I reflect on these experiences I wonder why anyone goes into our profession anymore. There are so many things that teachers are dealing with right now that I truly question if I would suggest that anyone pursue teaching as a career. In thinking about talking to these future teachers, here are a few things maybe I should give them a heads up on and really ask them why they would want to become a teacher.
  • You will be villainized by your neighbors in the community that you serve when you are part of a union and the union goes on strike for better pay and better benefits.
  • You will inevitably work for an administrator that has lost touch with the classroom. These administrators will observe you and evaluate you and tell you how to teach even though they themselves do not know how to be an effective teacher. You will see that exact same administrator fire and release good teachers around you because they don't know what good teaching looks like.
  • You will turn on the news and never see a positive story about a teacher but instead be bombarded with negative images and stories about ignorant and misguided teachers that are telling the story for you and your fellow teachers.
  • You will be overwhelmed with initiatives that are not new but instead are just a continual recycling of old ideas in new packages so somebody other than a teacher can make big money on them.
  • You'll be told your sole value as a teacher is determined by students’ bubble sheet tests that you yourself have no value in and do not teach to.
  • You will be forced to teach a curriculum that is miles upon miles wide but barely scratches the surface of any real depth.
  • You will listen and watch politicians fill your head with false promises about how they will make education better but then just perpetuate the cycle of bad policies and underfunded initiatives.
  • You will watch as nearly one quarter of all new teachers quit or leave the profession within the first couple of years of their career.
  • You will constantly be told how to do your job by people that have never done your job. Whether it’s a politician or a businessman, they will all claim to know school because they went to school and none of them will hesitate to tell you how school should be.
  • You will watch as vital programs that help a child expand their mind beyond the core curriculum are cut or dismantled.
  • You will teach in a building alongside amazing teachers. You will also teach alongside terrible teachers that will stay in a classroom because administrators don't want to do the work to get rid of them but will rather shuffle them to another building.
  • You will invest hours upon hours of your life into a child who won't care, won't change and ultimately drop out of school.
  • You will work for a school district that only cares about test scores. The well-being of the whole child will be secondary to data driven results of the student.
  • You will sit through meetings upon meetings, in-services and professional development opportunities that have no relevance, no connection and no value to you in the classroom.
  • You will constantly have to defend your decision to become “just a teacher” to your family and friends.
Yet in spite of all of this, if you truly love what you do it will be worth it. Every single thing on this list is irrelevant if you are passionate about teaching. Those special moments when you inspire a colleague or motivate a kid will be worth all of this and more. I do encourage people who truly want to matter in this world to join the ranks of teachers and help change lives, touch the future and all of those other teacher cliches that ring true. :)  


Unknown said...

As I've said to you on Twitter, I really wish that you didn't end by saying we do it for the love of it. These things must change if the public wants anything more than babysitters in the future.

I tell parents and the public this, that if they want to keep great teachers like you and I (well, not so much me; I'm only really good with certain types of kids), then they have to sign up to the battle. I ask them whether they want good teachers, like some of my lettered colleagues who are at school until 7:00pm every night of the week and still take work home with them, or if they want someone who treats teaching like a hobby, something to do when they have time away from other more pressing concerns (like whether they should get their nails done and so forth, what's on TV tonight, etc.). Because that is what the reality is. The public, in not backing good teachers, is backing an education system taught by people who may very well love working with kids, but simply aren't the best people to work with kids.

In my country there has recently been a debate about the fact that there are some really substandard teachers out there in the teaching workforce. That teachers should have to sit some sort of rigorous test before being allowed to become a teacher, but all this will do will create a situation where there are even less teachers out there than there are now, not better ones. Hard to staff schools, and subject-areas, will become worse (I know of at least one school where Mathematics is mostly taught by non-Mathematicians). What needs to happen is that conditions have to improve, immensely.

You and I have to argue for it. Not just for us, but for the next generation of teachers who should be even better.

Kathleen said...

Another thought... many of these problems can be avoided by teaching in independent schools. Oh, how I wish my tender heart and soul could stand to teach in a public school. At my core I believe that every child is due an excellent education, and I wish I could find a system, program, or institution that provided an excellent education in an environment sustainable for teachers. I've tried, and I couldn't take all the things you mentioned. The love of it didn't overshadow the damage the stress was doing to my body, and the pay was less than I could get waiting tables. So I made the switch to independent schools and I'm much, much happier. It's not perfect, but it's better. Now, how to improve things for those in public schools?

Wm Chamberlain said...

I think that many of the teachers that stick it out do so because they won't be beaten by a system that puts money and test scores before the kids they are supposed to serve. As Dylan Thomas wrote we "rage against the dying of the light." or maybe we just listened to Pink Floyd's The Wall too often growing up and refuse to be just another brick...

Doug said...

I've heard that 25% of teachers leave teaching within their first five years. I asked the Dean of the College of Education (might have been department chair rather than a dean) at Michigan State about this, right after she said it. Apparently, 25% of all professionals leave the career their college major prepared them for.

This indicates that the problem is not that teachers are leaving in droves but probably that college students are being guided into the wrong major. This is a very different problem than "teaching is so bad 1 in 4 can't take it." A different problem with a very different solution.

Unknown said...

The thing is, I love teaching. But I entered the public high school sector for all the wrong reasons. I did it to get my daughter into a school district we couldn't afford to move into. And I stayed for the money.

What I truly love is learning. As long as I was able to teach what I wanted, it was fun. I enjoyed figuring out what my kids didn't know and how to explain it to them. But we've gone to this one-size-fits-all curriculum, and an everyone-passes policy. It's exhausting me.

In self-defense, I started a blog of my own today, Pissed Off Teacher on blogger.com. Read the first post and you'll not only see evidence of your comments above, but also why I'm posting anonymously.

Thanks for listening.

"Estelle Loatah"

Unknown said...

Hi Josh,
I am one of the higher education students that this post is directed toward. It is a shame that there are so many negative things about pursuing a career as a teacher. I think that your closing paragraph speaks volumes about teachers, however. If you are truly passionate about teaching, then all of the cons are irrelevant. I really enjoyed this post!